My adult Christian life, both pre- and post-seminary, has been marked by theological passions. Holy Trinity, Incarnation, Eucharist, feminist language for divinity, ecclesial authority—at any given point in time these topics have captured and monopolized my intellect. I would buy and read books voraciously, visit libraries and xerox journal articles, write letters (and later emails) to famous and not-so famous theologians. Occasionally my passion of the moment would find its way into written form; inevitably it would find its way into my preaching. But there is one passion, indeed obsession, that has occupied my mind, heart, and soul for over forty-four years—the unconditionality of God’s love for humanity. I have struggled with it under different aspects—grace, justification, covenant and promise, sacramental absolution, worthy and unworthy communion—but always I am brought back to the grounding question: Does God love and forgive humanity—does God love and forgive me—gratuitously, unreservedly, unconditionally, absolutely, categorically, nontransactionally, without qualification, no hidden clauses, no ifs, ands, or buts?
Over the decades I have principally reflected upon the unconditionality of the divine love under the locus of justification by faith. The adventure began in seminary. How very odd that an Anglo-Catholic aspirant in an Anglo-Catholic seminary should stumble upon the writings of two Reformed theologians, James B. Torrance and his brother Thomas, and one Lutheran theologian, Robert W. Jenson. I emphasize the word “stumble.” My Nashotah House instructors certainly did not direct me to them, nor do I recall my seminary friends recommending them. Yet stumble upon them I did. One article by James Torrance especially impressed me: “The Unconditional Freeness of Grace.” I must have found it in the library while perusing through journals, as I cannot figure out how else I came across it. The following passage grabbed me:
The important thing is that in the Bible, God’s dealings with men in creation and in redemption—in grace—are those of a covenant and not of a contract. This was the heart of the Pauline theology of grace, expounded in Romans and Galatians, and this was the central affirmation of the Reformation. The God of the Bible is a covenant-God and not a contract-God. God’s covenant dealings with men have their source in the loving heart of God, and the form of the covenant is the indicative statement, ‘I will be your God and you shall be my people’. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the God who has made a covenant for us in Christ, binding himself to man and man to himself in Christ, and who summons us to respond in faith and love to what he has done so freely for us in Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, we are awakened to that love and lifted up out of ourselves to participate in the (incarnate) Son’s communion with the Father.
Two things are therefore together in a biblical understanding of grace, the covenant of love made for man in Christ, between the Father and the incarnate Son. (a) On the one hand, it is unconditioned by any considerations of worth or merit or prior claim. God’s grace is ‘free grace’. (b) On the other hand, it is unconditional in the costly claims it makes upon us. God’s grace is ‘costly grace’. It summons us unconditionally to a life of holy love—of love for God and love for all men. The one mistake is so to stress free grace that we turn it into ‘cheap grace’ by taking grace for granted—the danger of the ‘antinomianism’ against which Wesley protested. The other mistake is so to stress the costly claims of grace that we turn grace into conditional grace, in a legalism which loses the meaning of grace.
The fallacy of legalism in all ages—perhaps this is the tendency of the human heart in all ages—is to turn God’s covenant of grace into a contract—to say God will only love you and forgive you or give you the gift of the Holy Spirit IF … you fulfill prior conditions. But this is to invert ‘the comely order of grace’ as the old Scottish divines put it. In the Bible, the form of the covenant is such that the indicatives of grace are prior to the obligations of law and human obedience. ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I have loved you and redeemed you and brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, therefore keep my commandments.’ But legalism puts it the other way round. ‘If you keep the law, God will love you!’ The imperatives are made prior to the indicatives. The covenant has been turned into a contract, and God’s grace—or the gift of the Spirit—made conditional on man’s obedience.1
I cannot say that Torrance’s article hit me like a thunderbolt, but I can say that it swung wide a door in my mind and heart through which rushed the liberating winds of the Spirit. Was this what the Reformation was about, the utter freeness of grace? A flurry of questions immediately came to mind. I have wrestled with them for decades, but JBT’s emphatic assertion that our sins and disobedience do not condition the divine love struck me then as impossibly true. Surely this is the heart of the gospel. Soon afterwards I discovered Tom Torrance’s and Robert Jenson’s writings on justification. I was converted and have not wavered since. The absolute love and mercy of God—this has been the evangelical engine that has powered my priesthood. In the words of Hans Urs von Balthasar:
The sign of Christ is legible only if we read his human love and self-gift unto death as the manifestation of absolute love. . . . It thus becomes clear that faith is ordered primarily to the inconceivability of God’s love, which surpasses us and anticipates us. This is the sole object, the sole daß (Martin Buber) of faith, as the Christian creed expresses it. Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed. This is the achievement, the ‘work’ of faith: to recognize this absolute prius, which nothing else can surpass; to believe that there is such a thing as love, absolute love, and that there is nothing higher or greater than it; to believe against all the evidence of experience (“credere contra fidem” like “sperare contra spem”), against every “rational” concept of God, which thinks of him in terms of impassibility or, at best, totally pure goodness, but not in terms of this inconceivable and senseless act of love.2
I devoted the next two decades to immersing myself in the literature on justification by faith. Perhaps the most challenging title I read during this time was a little book by the Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde, Justification by Faith—A Matter of Death and Life. Forde’s reflections dovetail nicely with the Torrances and Jenson, but is expressed with even greater existential urgency. What must we do to be saved? asks Forde. His answer: absolutely nothing!
We are justified freely, for Christ’s sake, by faith, without the exertion of our own strength, gaining of merit, or doing of works. To the age old question, “What shall I do to be saved?” the confessional answer is shocking: “Nothing! Just be still; shut up and listen for once in your life to what God the Almighty, creator and redeemer, is saying to his world and to you in the death and resurrection of his Son! Listen and believe! When one sees that it is a matter of death and life one has to talk this way. The “nothing” must sound, risky and shocking as it is. For it is, as we shall see, precisely the death knell of the old being. The faith by which one is justified is not an active verb of which the Old Adam or Eve is the subject, it is a state-of-being verb. Faith is the state of being grasped by the unconditional claim and promise of the God who calls into being that which is from that which is not. Faith means now having to deal with life in those terms. It is a death and resurrection.3
Forde dares to grasp the nettle—and grasp it too we must. It’s easy enough to speak of unconditional love. It is expounded in a plethora of books and articles, both academic and popular. Invariably the authors end up telling us that even God’s love has its limits, set by the bounds of human freedom. God can only invite. It is up to us to accept the gift, and if we do not, the gift is effectively nullified. At the critical moment, God’s unconditional love becomes conditional and we are abandoned to our self-chosen perdition. Love is replaced by law.
Forde shares with JBT the apprehension that every human being is enclosed within his ego, determined by the deep need to justify and defend himself to God, to others, and to himself—hence our unshakeable commitment to legalism and Pelagian works-righteousness. Let’s call this the Reformation version of original sin. The old Adam lives in a world of conditionalist consciousness; he lives by the if-then: if we believe such-and-such, if we think such-and-such, if we do such-and-such, then specific consequences, both good and ill, will obtain. At every step, the old Adam remains in charge of his life and eternal destiny. This is why we fight so hard against the proclamation of unconditional grace. It directly challenges our worldview and our hold upon personal identity. Who am I if by eternal decree God predestines my final future? How dare he interfere with my freedom? The nothing inevitably evokes indignation and fierce resistance. “Why is it,” someone once asked Forde after one of his lectures on justification, “that when anyone talks about the sheer grace and absolute mercy of God people get so angry?”
Why indeed? Because it is a radical doctrine. It strikes at the root, the radix, of what we believe to be our very reason for being. The “nothing,” the sola fide, dislodges everyone from the saddle, Jew and Greek, publican and pharisee, harlot and homemaker, sinner and righteous, liberal and orthodox, religious and non-relligious, minimalist and maximalist, and shakes the whole human enterprise to the roots. It strikes at the very understanding of life which has become ingrained in us, the understanding in terms of the legal metaphor, the law, merit and moral progress. Justification, the reformers said, is by imputation, freely given. It is an absolutely unconditional decree, a divine decision, indeed an election, a sentence handed down by the judge with whom all power resides. It is as the later “orthodox” teachers like to say, a “forensic” decree: a flat-out pronouncement of acquittal for Jesus’ sake, who died and rose for us. . . .
The gospel of justification by faith is such a shocker, such an explosion, because it is an absolutely unconditional promise. It is not an “if-then” kind of statement, but a “because-therefore” pronouncement: Because Jesus died and rose, your sins are forgiven and you are righteous in the sight of God! It bursts in upon our little world all shut up and barricaded behind our accustomed conditional thinking as some strange comet from goodness knows where, something we can’t really seem to wrap our minds around, the logic of which appears closed to us. How can it be entirely unconditional? Isn’t it terribly dangerous? How can anyone say flat-out “You are righteous for Jesus’ sake”? Is there not some price to be paid, some-thing (however miniscule) to be done? After all, there can’t be such a thing as a free lunch, can there?
You see, we really are sealed up in the prison of our conditional thinking. It is terribly difficult for us to get out, and even if someone batters down the door and shatters the bars, chances are we will stay in the prison anyway! We seem always to want to hold out for something somehow, that little bit of something, and we do it with a passion and an anxiety that betrays its true source—the Old Adam that just does not want to lose control.4
To proclaim the gospel rightly the preacher must find ways to speak the radical nothing: “There is nothing you can do to save yourselves. Without your permission, God has saved you in Christ and is saving you by the Spirit.” To preach the good news of Pascha is to scandalously declare to sinners the final judgment ahead of time: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25:34). Forde elaborates:
For the point is that the unconditional declaration of justification, the imputation, the flat-out declaration, that which offends and shocks us so, that which shatters our ambitions for “something to do”—that declaration is our death and our life, the new beginning. It is the act which re-creates, redeems God’s creation. Death, you see, is put in the position of not being able to do anything according to the ways of this world—the law, religion, the upward climb—with all its plans and schemes. They suddenly stop, come to an end: “I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.” Both our vices and virtues come to a full stop. The justification declaration is precisely that: a full stop. “You have died,” says Paul. It is all over!5
The righteousness granted by the right preaching of the gospel thus enjoys an eschatological character. “It is,” as Forde puts it, “the totality of the ‘Kingdom of God’ moving in upon us.”6 To be justified by the word of the risen Christ is to be made a new creation. The gospel of unconditional grace is eschatological speech, speech that performatively enacts the final future. To hear and trust the evangelical promise is to die and be raised into the Kingdom with Christ and in Christ. Forde understands the inadequacies of the imputational model of justification. He believes that those who formulated this doctrine in the 16th and 17th centuries were attempting to reinterpret the preaching of the gospel as speech inspired by the Spirit, as speech that transforms and recreates by incorporating us into the coming Kingdom—speech that slays and makes alive, word that delivers us from the conditionalism of our fallen world into the new world of grace and Spirit. This liberation requires nothing less than our death and resurrection. The preacher is so much more than an encourager to live the good life and work for social justice. He is a prophet of the Kingdom, speaking the Word of God that accomplishes what it proclaims (Isa 55:11); he is a priest of the Eschaton, giving to communicants the Body and Blood of the glorified Lord. “Receiving and believing the word of justification is death and resurrection,” comments Forde. “It is the end and new beginning.”7
After decades of preaching this radical gospel of grace, I can confirm Forde’s analysis. No sermons of mine have evoked as much consternation as those that boldly declared the salvific “nothing.” We would believe anything except the evangelical claim that God has eternally elected us to glory. At any cost, even our own damnation, we would retain our “freedom” to irrevocably reject God’s gift of bliss. Let God be God, we say, but please not in this. We insist on acquiring salvation the old fashioned way—by earning it! But I can also confirm that many who have heard and believed the gospel of grace have been born anew in the power and freedom of the Spirit!
Critics of Forde have raised the objection that Forde has eliminated the process of sanctification—or as we Orthodox would say, theosis. If there is nothing for us to do, what then is the role of repentance, prayer, fasting, and the practices that inculcate virtue and intimacy with Christ? It is a weighty but not irresolvable concern. The short answer (mine, not Forde’s): they retain their necessary role but are now enveloped in God’s love and promise. Their necessity is that of grace, not works. We have died to the law and have been reborn in Christ. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). This is what saving faith is—life joyfully lived in the baptismal gift of resurrection. As the Apostle Paul declares:
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:11-14: cf. Rom 6:1-14)
The old Adam has been slain, and we now live in the Eucharist of the Eschaton. We are saved by the nothing of grace because God’s love is absolute and unconditional: God wills our eschatological salvation and will accomplish it. He has sealed his commitment in the death of his Son. Yet there remains the mystery of our synergistic cooperation with the Spirit in our repentance, healing, and purification, enfolded in the liminal space between death and resurrection. As St Augustine famously declared: “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.”8
In recent years I have come to see that the justification by faith controversy that shook the Latin Church in the 16th century is now being replayed in the current controversy over universal salvation. The burning gospel question in both is the same, the only difference being grammatical tense:
- Does God justify sinners, apart from their works and merit?
- Will God justify sinners, apart from their works and merit?
Justification by faith proclaims the utter freeness of the grace of God, gratuitously bestowed on all through the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ. Apokatastasis is but the gospel of Christ’s absolute and unconditional love sung in an eschatological key.
 James B. Torrance, “The Unconditional Freeness of Grace,” Theological Renewal (June/July 1978): 7-15. Unfortunately my xerox copy of the article was badly damaged years ago by basement flooding, but I transcribed the article as a text document. The article has been reprinted in Trinity and Transformation, ed. Todd Speidell, pp. 276-287.
 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible, pp. 99, 101-102. This little book should be read alongside David B. Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved.
 Gerhard Forde, Justification by Faith, p. 22.
 Ibid., pp. 22-23.
 Ibid., pp. 34-35.
 Ibid., p. 51.
 Ibid., p. 36.
 Sermo 169,11,13:PL 38,923.
Splendid article Father!
Would you (or anyone) happen to know where i might source an ebook of “Gerhard Forde, Justification by Faith?” It’s available on Amazon as a paperback, but Amazon shipping rates to Australia are still highway robbery even in 2021. A digital copy would be ideal
Alas, the book does not appear to be available in electronic form. Sorry. I looked for a digital copy, too, as it makes it so much easier to quote passages.
Eureka! An e-copy of Forde’s book appears to be available from Google:
Wonderful! No idea how I missed this in my websearches. perhaps duckduckgo doesn’t rank google based sites as highly. Thanks father ❤
Up to page 43. This book is fantastic! I’m sure I will be revisiting this over my life. Such a hard hitter while being so concise and compact. Look at this:
“Is it not “cheap grace”? No! It’s not cheap. it’s free!”
Now I know a good quick rebuttal to my Catholic buddies when we’re discussing this stuff haha. They always pull the “cheap grace” objection.
LikeLiked by 1 person
BTW father, where would you recommend as a starting point for getting into James and Thomas Torrence? Do any of their writings in particular stand out as a good introduction to their thought?
James Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace
Thomas Torrance, The Mediation of Christ
These two books should get you started! Enjoy! 🙂
You know, to say grace is unconditional and free is only a comfort (and indeed, only makes sense) under conditions of universalism. To say it is free but arbitrarily handed out to a chosen few is simply to say that no one can be sure of anything, and consequently that they had better start acting like the elect they hope to be (but probably aren’t).
Calvin, I understand why you would say that, yet that is not the case for Lutherans like Forde & Jenson or Reformed like T. F. Torrance and James Torrance (and Karl Barth). None of them were universalists (though Jenson eventually came to believe in universal salvation during the last year or two of his life). So it is possible to become convinced that the divine love is unconditional without connecting the dots.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Only insofar as one does not actually consider it, but simply rests on some vague belief that you are one of the lucky ones. But if it is not unconditional in all cases, then there is no assurance that it is in yours. Calvin himself outright said that God sometimes gives a temporary grace and then yanks it out from under a man. In which case you have no idea what you are and you’re right back to trying to earn said love (or at least not burn).
In reply, Forde and Jenson would say that you have overlooked their understanding of preaching. The preaching of the gospel is a divine electing event. What then about the unbelieving? Go and preach the gospel to them in the name of Christ and elect them to the Kingdom.
To which the obvious reply would be that we’re right back to conditions again. Now God’s love is conditioned on you both hearing the gospel within a short earthly lifetime and believing it above anything else you may have been taught. The answer to “What shall I do to be saved?” turns out to be “be lucky enough to hear, listen, and believe”. Now I’m not a professional theologian but that seems like a condition to me.
I have to agree with Calvin herr Father against Forde and Co (or Adam below), if the dots are not connected and it’s not rooted in a confident declaration of universalism it simply contradicts thr claim of divine love towards humanity and would bring conditions (you must hear and believe, probably for most of this view in this brief lifetime, seems similar to evangelical view in that way). Both preacher and listener must do this work to be saved. Now I understand this is thought as the work of the Spirit, and insofar as life by the Spirit to repentance would be salvation amd to salvation I don’t have an issue with it. But outside universalism it does raise the ugly issue of those who do not respond there or at other preaching, those not reached, missionaries wearing themselves out to outrace death (and God) to save those that haven’t heard (and still not reaching eveyone). To be regenerated in anyway is to love others as ourselves but to know then that God (without universalism) would select some and abandon others (and so created the world freely with this possibility woven and actualized) which at least to me does immense violence on a moment of reflection on the messsge being preachef when you consider what that says about who and what is being preached.
Without re-hashing say DBH’s arguments it would mean that god is a monster, and what trust can you place in that? So in that I agree with Calvin, to me it’s only coherent and uplifting and trustworthy against a universalist horizon’ which grounds it.
That said I feel the thrust here is a more personal concern, the person that hears, to know God’s unconditional love and saving grace, the encounter with Christ and the personal frering message. The person themselves given assurance that they are forgiven, delivered and that nothing can separate them the love of God in the Messiah Jesus. That seems fine to me, for preaching is to those preachrd to, given sacraments to, and so on and is a personal exchange in Christ, and is God’s salvation in action. As a focus on preaching of the Gospel I agree, though moving out from that, universalism would alone ground the truth of both it’s claims for both the world and of God.
Forde in particular takes this up explicitly – one cannot accuse him of not actually considering it. But the outcome is quite different, because the doctrine of God is different. He is, to my knowledge, along with Oswald Bayer the first of the 20th century Lutherans (and there are few since Forde, and not many since Luther) to fully grasp Luther’s distinction in The Bondage of the Will (and various other writings through the end of his life) between God preached and God not-preached. As is implied in the selections above, the unconditionality is there in the concrete proclamation itself – there God is “for you” without reserve. Forde, with Luther, would say that apart from the proclamation, that just isn’t so. The preached word is certain – that’s election, justification, etc. all in one. But then the only response to the hypothetical – “What if someone hasn’t heard?” – is the actual: go, find them, preach. The only answer to the absolute (which is a very real threat) is the absolution.
So, pace Fr. Kimel, Forde simply can’t back an abstracted universalism, and not because he hadn’t considered it. Unconditional proclamation as he understood it is not grounded in a universal in this way. Rather, if we’re going to talk about the possibility of universal salvation (and Forde allowed himself to say he was hopeful of it, but not more than that), it could only ride on the back of particularity: “For you, and you, and you… now, have I left anyone out?”
LikeLiked by 1 person
And then the question must be: what if someone has heard, and does not believe? Is God there, unreservedly, for the doubter as much as the believer? Is the unbeliever unconditionally saved by the mere fact of hearing the word preached regardless of how they react to it? If so, then that is indeed unconditional, if incredibly arbitrary (the damned are damned because no one preached to them, which obviously is not their fault), but if not then there’s a condition attached.
“Is the unbeliever unconditionally saved by the mere fact of hearing the word preached regardless of how they react to it? If so, then that is indeed unconditional, if incredibly arbitrary (the damned are damned because no one preached to them, which obviously is not their fault), but if not then there’s a condition attached.”
One has to grasp how thoroughly monergistic Forde is. “How they react to it” is worked by God. Where the Spirit creates faith (and so a new person, who actually does believe) through preaching, there is life. Not otherwise. Thus, unconditional.
Yes, this always appears arbitrary (to sinners), which is the same as saying that the cause does not lie in us, and even more, that it is offensive according to the law – because it is “not their fault, ” and this attribution of fault is essentially legal. But Forde sees election as entirely apart from the law, so this objection is shrugged off. This is Luther – God is outside the law (Deus est ex lex). Is it actually arbitrary? Well, good luck parsing that out. One could as easily say that the arrival of preachers with the good news in space and time is the least arbitrary thing in all creation – that it is not contingent in the least, but utterly necessary (that is, by gospel necessity, not legal necessity, as Al so helpfully distinguishes above), and that all divine providence is oriented to precisely this. As near as I can tell, it’s the same question as whether Al finding that piece by Torrance in the library was an accident. When you have an all-working God, are there any accidents?
So… Calvinism, just less plainly presented. The true answer to “What must I do to be saved?” ends up as “be one of God’s arbitrarily chosen favorites”, which raises the question of how one is even supposed to know that, or why one would wish to be with such a pointlessly cruel God in the first place. But in any case that isn’t unconditional either, because even a monergistic belief is still a belief and hence a human action that a person does or does not do, but, except now even the action of doing or not doing is simply taken from the helpless victim of divine power. Unconditional love in this system turns out to be anything but.
I contend that if actually believed the only reasonable response is either utter callousness or complete despair. The cosmos is made and ruled by a sadistic tyrant who means to torture helpless victims for all eternity, and the only other option is to spend eternity in said torturer’s company. And you don’t even get to pick. It’s a horrible mindset to be in. I know that from experience.
No, quite different from Calvin. Utterly plainly presented. How do I know it? God tells me, through the priest: “I absolve you.” That’s the answer. Why would you characterize this as cruel? It’s an explicit, clear, final answer to the most driving questions of life. It’s not an inference. There is no guesswork involved. It’s just a promise, which says exactly what it is right on its face.
And yes, it is unconditional, because the divine promise is not contingent upon the response. It creates the response – which is itself a divine work. You are using the word ‘condition’ in a way the language just won’t bear – as if the only way for a thing to be ‘unconditional’ for you would be (reminiscent of Derrida’s assault on the notion of a gift) for it to be utterly unknown and unresponded-to.
“I contend that if actually believed the only reasonable response is either utter callousness or complete despair. ”
If you believed God’s promise, the only response would be callousness or despair? Do you also furiously storm out of birthday parties when presented with a gift? You seem to have decided ahead of time that everything is going to amount to Calvinism (of some sort) one way or the other, and so determined your response along those lines. I understand the chaos and anxiety re: predestination, when it becomes a matter of speculation and worry. But this isn’t that.
“No, quite different from Calvin. Utterly plainly presented.”
Not different at all, beyond sophistries. One either is an a favorite of God, chosen arbitrarily and moved irresistibly into faith, or one is not. You can do nothing to change your position, and if you’re one of the unlucky ones you were created to burn forever.
“How do I know it? God tells me, through the priest: “I absolve you.” That’s the answer.”
And perhaps God has decided next week you will fall away and perish forever. Or perhaps that those closest to you will. He is arbitrary and inscrutable. He may love you or he may not, for no discernable reason.
“Why would you characterize this as cruel? It’s an explicit, clear, final answer to the most driving questions of life. It’s not an inference. There is no guesswork involved. It’s just a promise, which says exactly what it is right on its face.”
Do you consider the words you say? Why would I characterize this as cruel? I don’t know, maybe because this God of arbitrary power and inscrutable will has brought into being countless helpless, conscious puppets he means to torture for eternity for the high crime of being born not one of his random favorites? It’s shockingly sublime in its sheer unnecessary cruelty, the Holocaust doesn’t even register by comparison.
“You are using the word ‘condition’ in a way the language just won’t bear – as if the only way for a thing to be ‘unconditional’ for you would be (reminiscent of Derrida’s assault on the notion of a gift) for it to be utterly unknown and unresponded-to.”
Unconditional means just that, unconditioned. That is to say, it remains true regardless of the response, be it faith or unbelief. To tell someone that he must do nothing to be saved is just that: that he is (eventually) to be saved whatever his reaction is right now. You keep trying to impose a condition and then denying it is one. How shall I know I am among this fortunate company of the saved?
“If you believed God’s promise, the only response would be callousness or despair?”
If you truly believed what you proport to believe regarding salvation, that it is a monergistic work enacted upon humans solely by God and that he arbitrarily decides to not enact it on some, then your only choices are to harden your heart so utterly that you feel nothing for these hapless victims of a divine tyrant or else despair for the damned, for the “saved” who cravenly acquiesce to the torment of their brothers, for the fact that such a sadistic universe exists at all.
“How do I know it? God tells me, through the priest: “I absolve you.””
Oh, and how does our priest know that, absent universalism? Since not everyone is absolved, by what means can he be sure that you are one of them. Because you’re standing in front of him? But that’s a condition. Because you currently say you believe? You may be decreed to fall away.
“You can do nothing to change your position, and if you’re one of the unlucky ones you were created to burn forever.”
There is no “if”. “If” implies an unknown – what if I’m this rather than that? But that’s precisely what this sort of proclamation rules out. Not by information, but by actually effecting the change.
” He is arbitrary and inscrutable.”
He is precisely the opposite of inscrutable. He has told you exactly who you are, and where you stand: “You are forgiven.”
“Unconditional means just that, unconditioned. That is to say, it remains true regardless of the response, be it faith or unbelief. To tell someone that he must do nothing to be saved is just that: that he is (eventually) to be saved whatever his reaction is right now. You keep trying to impose a condition and then denying it is one. How shall I know I am among this fortunate company of the saved?”
This is willful obtuseness masquerading as logic. Which is, by the way, not a surprise. The usual response – the anger – at unconditional proclamation looks just like this. And no, this is telling someone not that they will eventually be saved, though it implies that. It is telling someone that they are saved. That it is a done deal. And that is precisely what creates faith – though often not before creating rage at the temerity of God to act just in this way (as we’re currently observing). How shall you know? Someone tells you. Until that happens, you don’t know. When it happens, it’s true, even if you forget it and start to rant for a while about how nobody told you.
The response of faith, by the way, is not only to believe, but to preach. To go and speak to others. Spare me the hypothetical rage at what is or isn’t happening to nobody in particular. (Rage that anyone who suspects there even might be a God can maintain indefinitely, about any conceivable injustice – but talk of election does seem to bring it to the surface). If someone you knew was suffering, and you were given the verbal antidote, you’d speak it.
Theology, of course, cannot answer these things. Only the proclamation itself can.
“There is no “if”. “If” implies an unknown – what if I’m this rather than that? But that’s precisely what this sort of proclamation rules out. Not by information, but by actually effecting the change.”
This proclamation is, by it’s author’s underlying theology, a lie. To tell a listener that God’s love for him is unconditional, when you know perfectly well that not all will respond in faith which is the evidence of election you allege to be produced by God. Some listeners do not have such a change in their lifetime, therefore by this theology God did not chose to produce it in them. Ergo proclaiming that he loved these luckless victims was nothing but a lie.
“He is precisely the opposite of inscrutable. He has told you exactly who you are, and where you stand: “You are forgiven.””
Only insofar as everyone hearing this proclamation is forgiven, by your own logic. But not all respond in faith, which is a monergistic act of God inside the human, ergo not all listening are forgiven. Do you not grasp the concept of consistency?
“This is willful obtuseness masquerading as logic. Which is, by the way, not a surprise. The usual response – the anger – at unconditional proclamation looks just like this. And no, this is telling someone not that they will eventually be saved, though it implies that. It is telling someone that they are saved. That it is a done deal. And that is precisely what creates faith – though often not before creating rage at the temerity of God to act just in this way (as we’re currently observing). How shall you know? Someone tells you. Until that happens, you don’t know. When it happens, it’s true, even if you forget it and start to rant for a while about how nobody told you.”
Are you legitimately insane, or do you not grasp the contradiction between a theological commitment to a limited election and an indiscriminate proclamation of forgiveness to all and sundry? To tell someone straight up that they are saved, that it is a done deal, is perfectly consistently with universalism, but not with a God who picks some at random to save and damns the rest. Unconditional proclamation of forgiveness to all is precisely what brought me back to Christianity, I have no problem with it. What I have a problem with is the naked contradiction you continue to pretend isn’t there.
Let me try putting it really simply for you: you can only proclaim that a given individual is saved, no strings attached, no conditions, with 100% certainty if: 1) You have received a direct revelation from heaven that this particular individual is one of the lucky elect chosen not to be eternally tormented OR 2) Everyone is saved.
“If someone you knew was suffering, and you were given the verbal antidote, you’d speak it.”
As a matter of fact I do know that, and I am speaking the antidote. That antidote being, quite simply, that God is love, that Christ will rescue every last human being from sin and death, without exception, and God will be all in all in the end. What concerns me are the deviations your position has with that.
Thanks, Adam, for the elaboration. I agree with your reading of Forde, and I think the early Jenson would also have agreed. I was never able to fully appropriate the distinction between the preached God (love and mercy) and the unpreached God (wrath), but I early embraced the claim that the preaching of the unconditional promise is God’s Word.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It doesn’t imply universalism. Universalism pre-supposes that the grace will transform everyone unconditionally, not that the grace is given unconditionally. That is the distinction.
Now we’re right back to conditions again. God’s grace is apparently a weak and useless thing, and he himself can only be described as actively malevolent, given that every being that rejects it under your scheme was both unnecessary to God and foreknown to do so, yet was created anyway. If to love is to will good to another, then to hate is to will evil to another. In creating these poor, doomed souls out of nothing, God can only be described as hating them with a hatred that knows no equal or limit.
At least Calvin was honest enough to come out and say it.
Divine Grace pervades every minute fraction of the Cosmos and as such is freely and universally available to all beings – not just human beings.
There are of course no “elect”. But there is the lawful necessity to create/prepare ones body-mind-complex to be a worthy vessel to receive and respond to such transforming Grace.
It is impossible not to encounter God’s grace. From here we see people who refuse God’s grace and choose nothingness (evil) over God and then we see on the opposite extreme, saints who dwell in the holiness fully submitted to the grace of God.
And God, knowing that these people would do so, went ahead and created them anyway for an infinity of torment out of what can only be described as the cruelest possible hatred. In unnecessarily making them he willed for them everlasting misery out of nothing but his own will
NE7: “From here we see people who refuse God’s grace and choose nothingness (evil) over God…”
Is it the right choice? Does it benefit them? (Please don’t supply the typical dodge: “It is right for them.”)
Anyone who “refuses God” must be doing so out of some fundamental misconception, some erroneous notion, if God is the ground, source, and consummation of desire.
Thus, God either lets a person suffer endlessly for what is quite literally a misunderstanding, or God creates beings that are incapable of being corrected in their misunderstand. This would clearly transcend mere pride or obstinacy, and must inhere in their created nature.
In both cases, God would be entirely at fault.
I realise I am understanding less and less the concept of “justification” or “being saved” as I go along. “Unconditional justification” would seem to me to be something of an oxymoron. To say someone is “justified” is to say they are righteous, or are declared righteous, or imputed righteous or what-have-you, which necessarily requires that being “righteous” has some meaning and can be juxtaposed against being “unrighteous” as meaning something else. If “justification” means God considering us righteous, there will necessarily be some conditions or criteria by which we are so assessed, or if it means making us righteous when we were not so before, some conditions or criteria as to the circumstances when God will do so, whether those criteria are something we do or don’t do or whether they are circumstances entirely beyond our control.
Sanctification / theosis I am all on board with and can understand, and if “justification” were essentially synonymous or largely indistinguishable from these, then I could understand it, and would have no difficulty with the term. It could even, then, be in a sense unconditional if the process of sanctification / theosis / justification (if all are understood as the same thing) was unconditionally being worked in all of us at all times, albeit in differing cases at a greater or lesser rate or with greater or lesser success. Add it in as a separate condition precedent for sanctification / theosis to take place at all, or as meaning reaching a particular milestone along the way, and suddenly it is conditional all over again.
Non-universalist unconditional love is appealing to a narcissistic psychological makeup. “I’m lucky. I fall under God’s desire to save. Others don’t.”
And they act like righteous anger against their position validates their position. A sadistic self-satisfaction. Callousness is bliss. “Men tend to have the beliefs that suit their passions.” -Bertrand Russell
Grant, Calvin, and, well, everyone: In order to appreciate Forde’s very Lutheran approach to theology, it’s important to recognize that he begins his theological reflection with the event of the preached-and-heard gospel. Jenson also expounds upon this approach to theology in his book Lutheranism. This kind of theology is existential and hermeneutical. Jenson would deny that we can speculate upon divinity from a third-person standpoint. We know God because he speaks to us. At no point may we step outside this event and treat God as an object. I’m sure Forde would agree with him on this. That’s why Forde can insist that we cannot speculate about universal salvation. All we can do is to speak the unconditional word of justification to everyone who will listen.
(Does that sound right, Adam Morton? I’ve been away from Forde’s writings for two decades or so.)
LikeLiked by 1 person
If one denies any ability to objectively know anything about God outside the context of explicit revelation, then one’s ability to evaluate to the truth or falsity of any given “revelation” is reduced to purely emotional and subjective criteria. Anyone can claim any kind of divine revelation, and many do. Further to deny that we may know anything about God then we cannot confidently say that he is good, rational, or even honest. Which in turn means no revelation can be trusted (he might be lying just to mess with us) and denies us any grounds on which to worship him save sheer, arbitrary power.
Calvin, may I suggest that before you mount a full-scale assault on Gerhard Forde’s theology, that you read a couple of his books and try to understand his fairly unique theological approach. Fair enough?
I’m also a tad confused by Calvins resistence to this sort of theology, seeing as he is already a universalist. Even if forde, jenson et al did not explicitly teach universalism, their theology coheres with it most excellently.
With that said, i do discern a legitimate question here: The unconditional promise will come true no matter what (even if the hearer dies in unbelief presumably), but in what exact sense or senses is it necessary for this promise to be explicitly proclaimed? Presumably a person doesn’t even need to hear the unconditional gospel promise spoken, for that promise to nevertheless efficaciously intend them. This is indeed where universalism is logically required for all of this to make sense, even if forde and jenson didn’t seem to commit to it.
I propose that forde and jenson are describing what the historical ordo salutis looks like (Preacher proclaims the gospel correctly, listener comes to faith/”is saved”). However in terms of more abstract ontology, metaphysics, eschatology etc, universalism is necessary to make this whole system work. I can’t unconditionaly proclaim someone saved without knowing that they are. Calvin is correct to perceive that universalism is required for this, even if jenson and forde were hesitant to take that plunge.
I dont think the final word has been spoken on the issue however and there are still loose ends to tie up and unanswered questions. for example, if salvation is made actual in the preaching, hearing and believing, then what does this mean for people who die in unbelief or without ever hearing? Universalism assures us that these people will ultimately be saved, but unfortunately the fantastic Jenson/Forde account of the sola fide simply isn’t yet refined enough to suggest how this is going to play out. I suggest that the answer is found in the eastern tradition, with its reflections on holy saturday. perhaps we could even “rebaptise” the mormon doctrine of afterlife evangelism, pairing it with bulgakov and theosis. perhaps some understanding of samsara might be relevant. who knows? Either way, we definitely still haven’t filled in the theological gaps between apokatastasis and the reality of there being many who die as apostate or unreached.
I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in pretending that self-contradicting nonsense abolishing thought and promoting the worship of arbitrary power for the sake of arbitrary power is an intellectually serious position. Once you say that God is unconditional love, there are certain things that logically flow from that, and if you deny them then you’ve rendered your incoherent and hence not credible. I’ve been there, I’m not interested in seeing it promoted again in another guise. If I’m a bit passionate about it, it’s because I know the kind of damage this nonsense does to actual people who try and make themselves believe it.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Clearly this blog is not right for you. Godspeed.
Calvin – I wager to say that few people here are in substantial disagreement with you. However this blog is a type of conversation; the assumption is that civil and amicable conversations can be had in regards to wildly diverging point of views. One of the key rules then, to maintain civility, is to respect all and afford a presumption of good will even to those with whom we most vehemently disagree.
For what it’s worth, Calvin, I agree with your sentiments entirely. But I have never had any interest in Lutheranism, and so the apocalyptic rhetoric of “hearing the word” or of the fused dialectic of the Law’s wrath and the Gospel’s mercy confronting us in the single event of the preaching of the word simply resonates with absolutely nothing in my nature. I’m too French in my habits of thought, perhaps. That said, I have great personal regard for Jens (whom I miss) and for Oswald Bayer and I always take them seriously. I ultimately think their approach defective from a removed, impartial vantage. I hate the Lutheran tendency to stretch the mystery of God’s will to the almost nominalistic breaking point that is so much a part of Luther’s thought and of Lutheran tradition. But I still find their language illuminating as an expression of the experience of being seized into the mercy of God.
LikeLiked by 3 people
Fr Al: That’s why Forde can insist that we cannot speculate about universal salvation.
Tom: Given the logic (which I can appreciate, to an extent), speculation about infernalism ought to be ruled out as well. The gospel preached/proclaimed doesn’t ‘itself’ speculate about final ends. One has to do a bit of reasoning based on the gospel one proclaims, right? What is best and properly believed to be entailed in ‘how God now addresses us in Christ’ regarding ‘how God shall address us in Christ’? So I don’t think Lutheran (or Jensonian) constraints upon theological claims can prevent the kind of speculating (reasoning abductively?) about final ends. The Christ we proclaim ‘is’ the end, right? And it’s not like the NT writers never thought through how the world (all Creation actually, ‘all things’) including its consummation, is equally realized/guaranteed in Christ.
What am I misunderstanding?
You aren’t wrong about the consequences of Forde’s thinking. An eternal hell certainly doesn’t come with the clarity of a divine promise. But when it comes to infernalism, it doesn’t change anything. Forde doesn’t (and logically doesn’t need to) make an argument about the reality and eternity of hell. But that it raises its head at all – that I am (psychologically, existentially, historically, whatever) confronted with the possibility of damnation in the first place – that seems unavoidable. That is, it has already happened for us, which is why we’re having this conversation.
So, our actual condition is this: given that hell is already on the table (as everyone seems to admit it is), what do we do about that? Forde would say to, e.g., DBH, that however clean his arguments, they aren’t certainty (if they were, he wouldn’t offer more than one of them). And so it’s trying to pin everything on the power of its own logic, which in the end doesn’t resolve the question – what will God do with me? The endless argument about hell and its eternity or not is proof enough of that. Solution: give the promise again. I can speak to absolutely anyone, in Christ’s name, and hand over salvation unconditionally. That’s certainty.
So no, Forde isn’t saying that speculation is impossible, or trying to prevent it. He’s trying to teach Christians to flee from their speculations (which are going to happen, whether we want them to or not) to the sure ground of Christ in his promise.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Not sure I am following. I think Hart’s argument assumes a synthetic interlocking logic, as it were. It’s not correct to assert that more than one line of argument implies incertitude as if somehow a less complex, univocal presentation would prove more certain. Anyway, I’m not a Lutheran and I haven’t read Forde. Speculative theology is something that takes place within the contemplation of revelation. I wouldn’t place it somehow in the realm of existential equivocities bereft of God’s promises.
Adam: Forde would say to, e.g., DBH, that however clean his arguments, they aren’t certainty (if they were, he wouldn’t offer more than one of them). And so it’s trying to pin everything on the power of its own logic, which in the end doesn’t resolve the question – what will God do with me?
Tom: I think objections to Hart’s arguments (or to universalism in general) based on the claim that ‘certainty’ here is impossible (so just vaguely ‘hope it’, don’t actually ‘believe it’) entirely miss the point. Hart is on record (see his conversation with R Kuhn re: theodicy) as admitting he doesn’t possess absolute certitude regarding even the Xan story itself, that on bad days he gas doubts. So he can hardly be claiming absolute, undoubtable certainty regarding universalism.
But this doesn’t mean one cannot be certain within the terms of an overall worldview which itself can only be held by faith, precariously and, much of the time, painfully. As I read him, Hart’s certainty is that IF the overall Xan story is true (Trinity, creation ex nihilo, Christ as ‘God is Love’ incarnate), THEN one can be as certain as faith and humility will allow that infernalism is impossible, and for the same reasons the eventual salvation of all is certain. It can’t be any ‘more’ certain than Xan theism can be certain, but this isn’t grounds for criticizing Hart’s confidence in believing it to be true on the basis of the core affirmations Xans make regarding creation ex nihilo, God as the True, the Good, the Beautiful, etc.
But the idea that all we are permitted to do with any confidence is to offer God’s unconditional love “now” without speculating on any “now” to come is, to my sense of things (which may be weak and faulty), impossible given the nature of the offer which is the gospel; because the same categorical logic/grammar which establish the meaningfulness of the offer of the gospel now are the very terms and categories that inform one’s confidence regarding every imaginable offer in every imaginable future. One can argue Hart is mistaken in asserting this connection, but one cannot falsify the arguments because one can believe them as confidently as one believes the gospel itself.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is my understanding as well Tom, for the proclamation to be meaningful and now, must be grounded of it’s truth into full future, that all shall and so in Christ are delivered from the jaws of sin, death and the domination of darkness. The confidence of the far horizon confirms the immanent declaration and vs versa, King Ellessar, Mithrandir and the Ring-bearer has overthrown the Dark Lord and broken the power of Mordor, Gondor are free and safe ftom them, so it would be proclaimed and is grounded in it’s truth and certainly to all peoples of Gondor and beyond even if it might take more time for Elessar’s rule and liberation to be implemented in the more outlying areas. Basically to confidence comes from the certainty of the horizon giving absolute confidence in the particular, the same logic is at work re-enforcing each other, remove confidence in one, you lose confidence in the other.
And agreed to the extent that we can trust and believe in Christianity is the extent we can be confident in univeralism (and is the trust of DBH’s argument that if the Gospel is so univeralism necessarily is true also). I would also suggest that as DBH has pointed out, to Adam that TASBS is one argument with distinct interlocking parts.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Fair enough – but Forde, following Luther, really does talk of certainty here. Not in regards to psychological states, but in regard and in specific relation to the promises of God. That is, they are certain, even if I am not. “As certain as faith and humility will allow” belongs to a fundamentally different way of thinking. For Forde, faith doesn’t limit certainty, but simply is the certainty of the promise. I ought to be humble about many things, but not about those matters actually promised to faith – humility doesn’t belong there.
As for “now’ vs. what is to come, here more probably has to be said to make the point clearly. Forde (again, following Luther) sees this word as properly eschatological – so from that angle there’s no reason to speculate on what is to come, as what is to come is actually given in the promise. It isn’t unknown. The notion of “imaginable futures” isn’t even opened up. The future is bestowed, as a matter of certainty, in the present.
I could observe a parallel difference between the gospel as offer and Forde’s perspective of the gospel as an unconditional promise (for which he would not have used the language of offer, as if it awaited reception). That is, from Forde’s perspective, what Hart is speaking of is not certainty at all.
That is, I suppose, one way of saying that while I’m appreciative of many things that Al does on this blog and elsewhere (including the above piece), I suspect the attempt to marry such vastly different theologies (and that’s assuming one can even align the Lutherans Forde and Jenson – some days it seems you can, and some you can’t, but they played off one another throughout their careers) doesn’t quite hold. At least, I don’t see how it does, though inconsistency is far from the worst thing that can afflict a theological system.
“the attempt to marry such vastly different theologies” – wait am I missing something? I don’t think this is what is going on.
I make one argument with six or seven interlocking aspects. The certainty attaching to it is, to my mind, absolute. But it is conditional ss to its reality: if any version of Christianity is true (which is not a given), it can only be the universalist version. The converse of this is: if universalism is false, so is Christianity.
Since I’m immune to the appeal of Forde’s theology, I won’t comment on that. But this distinction has to be made. I do not start from a conviction of the certainty of the gospel and then from that try to reason to what seems to me the best and most likely extension of that hope. I start from the logically impeccable case that only universalism is possible if the gospel is true, and am indifferent to any certitude or faith that does not encompass that truth.
LikeLiked by 3 people
“…if any version of Christianity is true (which is not a given), it can only be the universalist version.”
I probably worded myself poorly, but yes, this is how I’ve understood your position and the nature of your certainty regarding it.
Yes. Forde doesn’t rule out that reason and experience can say something about God – neither does Luther. But this is precisely where he’ll say we’re dealing with God not-preached – that is, where fate and chance are indistinguishable, where all things appear arbitrary, where ultimately I just cannot tell whether I’m dealing with “the universe” or “God” or “the absolute”, and nothing resolves cleanly. Does that count as knowledge? It is not knowledge of God in the sense of intimacy and certainty. It gives no surety at all. Grandma gets hit by a bus. Did God do that? Yeah, I suppose so. That’s “knowledge” – but then we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can do much with it. I suppose we CAN speculate about universal salvation – I mean, empirically, people do it. But Forde’s point is that speculation is ALL we can do with universal salvation in the abstract, and that speculation doesn’t bring certainty, so it doesn’t resolve the question.
We have certainty about God because God addresses us with a promise. Not psychological self-certainty, but precisely the certainty of God’s pledge. And Forde sees the Christian life as essentially a contest between these two experiences – learning to flee from where we don’t have a promise, to where we do.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Wow. Thank you for the article.
LikeLiked by 1 person
the issue at hand in this debate is found in the following quotes from adam and fr Kimel: “That’s precisely what this sort of proclamation rules out. Not by information, but by actually effecting the change.” and “The preaching of the gospel is a divine electing event. What then about the unbelieving? Go and preach the gospel to them in the name of Christ and elect them to the Kingdom.”
preaching the gospel as an ‘electing event’ that ‘effects the change’ immediately introduces conditionality into the picture again, because one’s salvation depends not on something Christ/God has done on behalf of all and for all, but on the ‘event’ of preaching. I love existential hermeneutics, and as someone who fears eternal condemnation they offer the comforting reassurance that I am saved, but here they obscure this simple point. Either ‘the preaching of the gospel’ is Christ the Word made flesh and his reconciliation of all things to the father, and all human preaching is a completely unnecessary (though ‘behovely’) participation in this reconciliation, or else salvation is conditional upon the preaching of the gospel by pre-deified humans to other pre-deified humans.
I agree partly with your logic, though you’re missing something theologically in the accounts that so emphasize preaching – namely, that this preaching might be the (utterly essential) work of the Spirit in actually drawing the world to Christ and his reconciliation. (That would be how Forde sees it, and so how his ecclesiology functions).
That said, I agree that universalism approached apart from proclamation renders the proclamation unnecessary.
Ben: “preaching the gospel as an ‘electing event’ that ‘effects the change’ immediately introduces conditionality into the picture again, because one’s salvation depends not on something Christ/God has done on behalf of all and for all, but on the ‘event’ of preaching.”
Disagree strongly, though I see your concern. The concern you raise, Ben, is analogous to the typical Protestant objection raised against the catholic understanding of the eucharistic sacrifice: the catholic understanding introduces a second saving event in addition to Christ’s finished work on the cross. But of course the eucharistic sacrifice is not an additional to the cross; it is identical to Christ’s saving work in a sacramental mode (ditto for Baptism). Similarly, the electing preached word is identical to Christ’s electing work but in a homiletical (indeed sacramental) mode. Needless to say, this requires a very different understanding of Church than what most Protestants are willing to entertain.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I am not as familiar with the modern Lutheran discussion in figures like Gerhard Forde, but in the early modern discussion Lutheran theologians like Johann Franz Buddeus already advocated for a universal forensic justification but the problem of application/appropriation of Christ’s merits (i.e. sanctification) remained. Buddeus recognized that salvation as principally a matter of healing could not be done apart from a human acquiescence to God. There is no need to worry though, the Pietist Lutheran dogmatic universalist Gerhard Ludwig (appealing to Buddeus’s understanding of God and pleading for a real application of Christ’s sacrifice) already posited hell as a purgatorial way station. Gerhard recognized that only within a universalist theology can you be assured that God’s good intention and patient mercy towards you will finally be brought to perfect fruition, no matter how many times you stumble. The true self-denial is of course a condition of salvation, but there are no ‘time’ limits to this requirement.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Adam: “I suspect the attempt to marry such vastly different theologies (and that’s assuming one can even align the Lutherans Forde and Jenson – some days it seems you can, and some you can’t, but they played off one another throughout their careers) doesn’t quite hold.”
Eclectic Orthodoxy ain’t called eclectic for nothing!
But seriously, isn’t that what most of us who both read theology and preach the gospel do? Ours is a constructive process of marrying the thoughts of those theologians we find insightful and helpful, according to the criteria we deem normative. I rely on others to tell me whether the marrying works or not.
Take Gerhard Forde, for example. As you have noted, Adam, few theologians have followed him and Luther on the distinction between the unpreached and preached God, yet that doesn’t mean that we–especially preachers–cannot constructively appropriate his understanding of the gospel as unconditional promise that kills and resurrects. Doing so does not mean that we have to swallow Luther or Forde whole. We just need to adopt unconditional promise as grammatical rule (Lindbeck) in our preaching of the gospel–and that I did decades ago. And once we have taken that step, universalism can’t be far behind (though most resist it for all sorts of unconvincing reasons). As others have noted in this thread, and as I argued in my Logos article “Preaching Apokatastasis,” the grammatical rule both implies and needs the greater hope to justify it. Give Forde four stars for sticking to his unpreached/preached Lutheran guns for the sake of consistency, but his refusal to make the jump to apokatastasis is illogical nonetheless. The better course is the eclectic route. 😎
LikeLiked by 1 person
Ha! You’re quite right that this is the boat we’re all in.
I think what I’m saying is that I can’t help but agree with Ben B above that adopting apokatastasis renders the proclamation unnecessary. I get why it would be a good thing for alleviating people’s anxieties and setting them on a road to better living (to be somewhat flip about it), but not why anyone would actually need it. Can’t make sense (for myself) of the Petrine “baptism now saves you” or the Pauline “How are they to hear without a preacher?”, or the story of Acts as the story of the Spirit driving the preaching of Christ to the ends of the world from such an angle. Here, Forde somewhat ironically (as he was always dinged, not least by Jenson, for having a minimalist ecclesiology) seems to have a clearer sense of the church.
That said, however you get there, I am entirely glad that the proclamation remains so powerfully spoken. That seems to me the main thing.
I also have a suspicion that Forde’s sticking to his guns on this point had less to do with consistency and more to do with pastoral necessity. Forde’s students learned this first as a pastoral theology, and I find that many more of them know how to practice it than can theorize it in a coherent fashion.
At the risk of diving into matters I generally find get slightly too technical for me, I think the problem lies in maintaining touch of a distinction between “justification” and “sanctification / theosis”. If you assume the purpose of preaching the gospel is to move people from the category of “unsaved” to “saved” universalism renders the proclamation futile. However, it’s also true that while universalism declares “all shall be saved”, if it means anything, being “saved” in universalism in a global sense means the apokatastasis, and in an individual sense sanctification / theosis – the ultimate end of the process, not the condition precedent for its beginning. Forde’s understanding of justification by faith fits neatly with universalism and keeps the necessity of proclamation, because hearing the proclamation of the gospel is part of the process by which we are “saved”, either hearing it now on this life or, as Peter writes, hearing it when Christ descends to the dead to preach to the imprisoned souls there. (NB Please forgive the potential heresy in there somewhere: there’s a distinct problem with the use of English tenses when discussing what is essentially an “eternal” rather than strictly historical event.)
Re: DBH, I recalled that he said “on bad days he gas doubts.”
How embarrassing. My apologies. He “has” doubts. Whether he also has gas on account of them I cannot say.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Haha! Lots of theology gives me gas. 😀😜
For the record, it would be very Luther-esque to gas doubts, loudly, with much fanfare, and some particularly piquant language being hurled at the devil in the process. All to say, I am all for the gassing of doubt.
This is way eternal punishment is compatible only with Islam. It is politically incorrect but truevand unescapable. There, God is not unconditional love, neither is the concept of mercy so important: important is only to accept God… Then you will be saved from Hell and granted Paradise (the descriptions of eternal Hell in the Quran are everywhere, almost at every page; you can’t gloss over them). Allah love only the people who submit to him: the others, are despised. In a way, Calvinism is like Islam, and Protestants do indeed tend to reason like Muslims as they generally lack the fancy philosophical coat we Catholic have mastered so well thanks to Thomism. Now, of course there have been Muslims with different ideas, entire systems and the whole Sufi movement, but those ideas are not rooted in the Quran itself (which is straight from God, word by word, and contain no errors, exactly like Protestants. read scriptures).
If God is not love, then one can freely reject universalism and still believe. But once you portray God as Jesus and the Apostle did, then problems of incompatibility will inevitably arise. And it is right that they arise. Because Agape and mercy are the whole message of the Good News. That’s why people converted even if they were murdered by Romans for 300 years. If eternal Hell was pteached as Protestants preaches it, would so many people have died for Christ? Come on. Even today, when a martyr die for Christ independently from the philosophy he subscribe to, he is being moved by love.
“ This is way eternal punishment is compatible only with Islam. It is politically incorrect but truevand unescapable. There, God is not unconditional love, neither is the concept of mercy so important…”
This is not the testimony we find in Sufism. One has to be careful when painting with too broad of a brush.